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The film Denial is all about fake news

Imagine for a moment how you would feel if someone said your memories were false, or worse, that what you claim to be your memories or your experiences were complete lies. Now imagine you were told that the Holocaust – the greatest atrocity of the 20th Century (and possibly in all human history) – was a complete fabrication. How would that make you feel?

This is the central premise of the movie Denial which is about the libel case brought by author and historian David Irving against American author Deborah Lipstadt in the UK in the late 1990s.

In 1993 Lipstadt (played by Rachel Weisz) published a book called Denying the Holocaust, which rips into Irving (Timothy Spall) for being what she terms a Holocaust denier. Three years later, Iriving sues Lipstadt for defamation in an English court. Under UK Law, the burden of proof in a defamation case is on the defendant, so it is up to Lipstadt to prove that the Holocaust happened and that Irving lied about it.

In real life this process took six years, so condensing that time frame into 110 minutes takes some doing. The filmmakers manage that by skillfully picking out the key milestones in the case:  Lipstadt and Irving’s first public altercation; the subsequent defamation filing; Lipstadt’s search for a legal team; and a riveting and moving trip to Auschwitz with Barrister Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson).

The story really becomes riveting when the courtroom scenes begin. Watching Rampton pick holes in Irving’s stitched up history and his deep rooted racism and anti-semitism is pure joy. What is disturbing however is how well his dismissive view of history and his insidious prejudice is lapped up by people outside the courtroom.

Denial is a story very relevant for our times. With ‘fake news’ and its dangerous consequences a hot topic right now, it is sobering to see that a decade ago ‘fake history’ was being argued about in a court of law. It is staggering to think that there are people who actually believe the Holocaust was made up. It is also puzzling to me that some of biggest apologists for Hitler are in Britain – a country whose cities were razed by the Nazis and came so incredibly close to defeat in World War Two.

The best thing about this film is that it isn’t sensationalist – the script is well constructed and the performances nuanced. Spall does a very good impersonation of Irving, and Weisz is convincing as Deborah Lipstadt, a woman burning with a desire to win but forced to sit demurely as the legal experts present their case in court. Weisz does this well, and manages to show Lipstadt as a prickly slightly flawed character who despite her instincts comes to trust her legal team. Special mention must go to Tom Wilkinson for his superb portrayal of Richard Rampton – a man with deep intellect but equally deep human understanding. With a facial twitch or cock of the head and his beautifully sonorous voice Wilkinson was the Master of the Court.

Denial is an incredibly well crafted film that will make you think deeply about the value of free speech and the value of not forgetting our history.



110 minutes

In cinemas 13th April 2017

Directed by: Mike Jackson

Starring: Rachel Wiesz, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Spall, Andrew Scott, Jack Lowden, Caren Pistorius, Alex Jennings



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